Enjoying life in the arms of Calypso
What is the Odyssey about? Which are the themes in this work of Homer's?
The first one, and resonating Cavafy, should be the "voyage".
Right. The Odysee talks about that, about adventure, about nostalgia for one's country, one's family and one's title or office.
In the seas, was Ulysses a suffering shipwrecked man, even though he still commanded his companions. But in his homeland he was king.
What else is the Odyssey about?
About the wife's loyalty and the husband's infidelity. At school we learned that ten years after the fall of Ilion, Ulysses was struggling in the seas trying to return to Ithaca. Our teachers forgot to emphasize that during seven of them he was having a good time in the arms of beautiful Calypso, the nymph who wanted to make him immortal. While Penelope was weaving and pulling so as not to succumb to any suitor, while she waited patiently for her husband to return, he himself had found another woman. But fate wanted it that way, one may say, the gods ... As it often happens to males, Ulysses at some point got tired of the many services and pleasures that Calypso offered him, he got tired of finding everything ready - maybe his new partner had started to have other demands, she may have wanted a child or had become grumpy - so the warrior thought it would be a good idea to go back to his sea adventures.
The Odyssey is about Greek mothers burdening their children with guilt. When Ulysses, obeying the gods' commands as given to him through Circe, goes down to Hades, his mother Anticlea is there to meet him. She tells her son that she died during his absence because she missed him so much.
There are inexhaustible topics in Odyssey, even if we tried harder we wouldn't be able to name them all.
Another subject has to do with the greed of the suitors who eat and drink on the expenses of Telemachus. They are arrogant and degenerate after having consumed so many bloody meats and drunk so much wine. The palace maids sleep with them, thus showing that they already consider them their masters. But on the other hand there is Eumaeus, Ulysses's loyal shepherd who represents a stable, moral value amidst this decadence.
In the Odyssey we also encounter the reason of the Trojan war, beautiful Helena, now repented.
We also get to know all the gods of Olympus, their genealogy, their many ancestors (a rich "portrait gallery" of them) as well as their weaknesses and virtues, along with those they liked and the ones they disliked.
In the Odyssey the reader will find some non politically correct comments regarding local groups. For example the inhabitants of a large island are depicted almost as mafiosi whereas those originating from a certain area of the Peloponnese are described as thieves. Is it my idea perhaps, did I not understand it well? Or is it indeed so that those stereotypes still exist among Greeks today?
Another theme in the Odyssey is the child who looks for his father everywhere and the father who trusts his boy (who in the meantime has grown up) in order to defeat the enemies together.
The behaviour towards beggars and lots of other social subjects are there, too. And those issues still occupy our minds to this day.
Furthermore, it is a long travelogue exploring places and habits of other creatures, human creatures (e.g. the Pheacians) or non human (Cyclops, Sirens etc.)
The book is about Ulysses and his courage but also about his companions who were at times disobedient and committed acts of hubris -think of when they killed the cattle of Helios.
The Odyssey is an entire parade of the Iliad heroes, who are here named one by one, who are praised or accused for the part they played in the Trojan war.
"I went through an Odyssey" we say when we try to describe a sequence of difficult situations. Homer's Odyssey is an endless sequence of adjectives characterising gods and mortals, locations, animals, customs. It is a treasure of knowledge about the antiquity, a unique poem with a melodious sound which we always love to read.
LS May 2014